Can You Get Arrested for Drinking in Public?

by LegalFix
Posted: November 3, 2022
public intoxication

Whether planning a day at the beach, a picnic in the park, or any event in a public space, many people consider bringing an adult beverage. Often, they assume that where they choose to drink doesn’t matter as long as they’re of legal drinking age. But, in fact, drinking in public is actually illegal in many places. 

While there is no federal law against drinking in public, many state and municipal governments have some form of regulations around where alcohol may be consumed. Even if you don’t plan to consume alcohol in public, laws against being intoxicated in public are common. Many don’t even require any open alcoholic beverages on your person. 

 There are a number of reasons why drinking alcohol in public spaces is outlawed. In most cases, legal rulings on the matter cite issues such as disturbing the peace, public indecency, and the potential dangers of being around intoxicated persons. Standards for what constitutes public intoxication vary by place, but in most cases, anyone who appears to be under the influence of an intoxicating substance in a public area is subject to the relevant laws. 

Punishments for Public Intoxication

In most cases, drinking in public is a misdemeanor. While this means that punishments tend to be fairly light, there are places where public intoxication can carry some jail time. In Indiana, public intoxication is a class B misdemeanor and can be punishable with up to 180 days in jail in addition to a fine. Some states are even stricter, with Iowa having a maximum penalty of up to two years of jail time for third (and any subsequent) offenses. Typically, these punishments are only applied when the drunk person is breaching the peace or has been harassing or endangering members of the public, but how these standards are applied can be somewhat subjective. 

More often than actual jail time, laws afford public safety officers the option to take intoxicated individuals into “civil protective custody” until they’re sober again. This is the case in California. Other states, such as Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon, have no laws against drinking in public, and in Kansas, there is even a state law prohibiting municipalities from outlawing public intoxication. In most cases, however, state laws consider public drunkenness to be a low-level (typically class C) misdemeanor, meaning that the maximum punishment is a fine of up to $500.

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